The Land and Environment Court has penalised Hardman Chemicals Pty Ltd $60,000 for an incident in which a large amount of chlorine gas was released at its Seven Hills premises in Western Sydney.
The Court directed that the penalty be paid to Blacktown City Council for the purposes of environmental projects Cooling our streets through sustainable stormwater management and the 2020 Eco-Active Schools Program. Hardman Chemicals was also ordered to pay the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) legal costs of $100,000 as well as investigation costs.
Hardman Chemicals pleaded guilty to breaching its environment protection licence when it added 160 litres of hydrogen peroxide to a large hydrochloric acid storage tank, resulting in the release of chlorine gas. Workers on site and community members at surrounding businesses reported experiencing breathing difficulties, violent coughing, burning sensations and headaches following the incident. Three employees of Hardman Chemicals were also hospitalised.
Hardman Chemicals was ordered to publish details of the conviction in the Blacktown Advocate, Sydney Morning Herald and on its company website for a minimum of 30 days. The company was also ordered to notify 23 affected persons (including nine of its employees and a contractor) of its conviction and apologise to them for the incident.
The Court heard that in the months prior to the incident, Hardman Chemicals had tried to identify the source of a sulphur like odour being emitted from the premises after neighbours complained to the EPA. In an attempt to remedy the odour Hardman Chemicals staff decided to add hydrogen peroxide to a storage tank containing hydrochloric acid.
Before adding the chemicals, Hardman Chemicals staff failed to conduct an adequate risk assessment and also failed to consult any literature or safety data sheets available to it which contained warnings about the incompatibility of those two chemicals.
EPA Director Regional Operations Giselle Howard, said Hardman Chemicals failed to meet their obligations under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 in relation to the handling of chemicals at the premises.
“There is a responsibility to carry out adequate safety measures before mixing chemicals of this nature and on this occasion licensed activities were not carried out in a competent manner.”
Prosecutions are one of a number of tools the EPA uses to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions.